Take Care Tuesday – The Wonders of Random Kindness

never-underestimate-the-power-of-a-single-act-of-kindness

Rants and pet peeves are all well and good, fun posts and easy to get fired up about … the reality is that most people are just trying to go about their lives and wish no harm to others, and some people are downright nice. So today I wanted to highlight some wonderful things I have seen recently.

1. Subway Savior

When we went to New York, we were headed into the Subway the first day and wanted to buy a Metro Card, and trying to get the best option for both the Path and the Metro. Next to us was a woman in a suit in her 30s, and she overheard us and did two things:
– Gave us a couple of empty cards to refill (saving us $1 per card)
– Helped us make some smart choices about filling up the card.

It was a totally selfless and unnecessary act that cost her time and helped us out. I have no idea where she was headed, what her name was or anything else … but Thank You!

2. Runner Recognition

When I went to a recognition event a few weeks ago, the project manager – who I have emailed but not seen since 2010 – was chatting with me and asking me about running and my fitness and so on. He just came out and said I looked incredible and that I must be a distance runner because that is what I look like. The last time I saw him I probably weighed about 50-60lbs more than I do now …

And once again, here we were at a company event, and there was no need for him to have said anything – but he did and it meant the world.

3. Un-Necessary Kindness

I have talked a lot about the need to ‘shut up … and listen’ – that too often people will speak unnecessary words when what the other person needs is someone to listen. Guess what – sometimes the opposite is true! Sometimes people will open their mouths unbid, and magic will spew forth. For whatever reason I have heard a bunch lately, here are just a few:

– I have a coworker who has been losing weight, had lost a bunch, put most of it back on and then has lost all of that and more. As someone who knows that struggle I am quick to mention if I see new clothes, and so on. But last week a bunch of people were together talking and one mentioned offhand that she looked like she’d lost weight, which she acknowledged quickly before things moved onto another subject. It all passed in a couple of seconds, but from personal experience I know these little things can make your day.

– The dangers of ‘reply all’ sometimes are a benefit! Returning from my anniversary weekend there was a ton of stuff to deal with, but amongst the myriad emails was some information in the form of a discussion I was copied on. Everything was dry and technical, and I had already replied and asked for more information so I could help out when I decided to read through the whole email chain to get further context. Earlier in that discussion my name came up and a bunch of nice things were exchanged about work I had done and help and time I had given to people. It was all small stuff, but the moment of satisfaction – like overhearing someone praise you without knowing you were there – really made the compliments mean that much more.

– In the store last week the person in front of me bought stuff that totaled $19.97 and the cashier noted that was the year she was born. I remarked that was in between my boys, born in ’96 and ’98. We started chatting and it ended up she knew my boys and had wonderful things to say about them – which was really cool since she wasn’t someone I knew.

– I have had a number of instances over the last couple of week where I have seen people I’d not seen in a couple of years, and they have said stuff about my appearance, or have seen me out running, or heard things, or whatever. Again, it is so much easier NOT to say anything, so the fact that they chose to make those remarks brightened my day.

4. Taking Care of Business

At the store the other day I saw a couple who were buying a jug of milk, but neither had their wallet – they thought they were going to have to go home and then come back. But the person behind them in line say ‘don’t worry, I got it’ and paid for it. Sure it was just $3, but in a world where everyone seems so disconnected and miss so much due to being on their phone, that presence of mind to hear what was happening AND step in with an act of kindness … it was touching.

Then the next day at the grocery store I got in line in the ‘express line’ behind someone who clearly had WAY more than the ‘suggested limit’ of items, and who was very easy to judge in many other ways (and honestly, I will say that someone with more than 30 items in a 7 item line opens himself up pretty much to judgement!). But as it got to be his turn in line, he turned to the person behind him and let her go ahead. A new cashier opened and plucked me out of line, but it was one of those totally unexpected moments.

5. Thanks for the ‘guest posts’

About a month or so ago Suz left a huge and awesome comment, and mentioned that it was basically ‘a guest post’ … and she was right! My initial thought was to quote some here … but I realized that to include some but not others wouldn’t be fair, nor could I choose any specific post since it feels like I get amazing comments on even the most mundane of posts.

Instead I just want to thank everyone – I really love and appreciate all of the kind and generous time and energy you put into your comments. It makes every single post better – you enhance things I wanted to say, offer different viewpoints agreeing with my statements, or even disagree in a very respectful manner. It is a humbling thing to read your comments every day.

Bonus. Combining Happiness … and Robin Williams

I haven’t talked much about Robin Williams dying, but it isn’t because there wasn’t an impact. It was more because there was SO much noise last week about it … there is the usual general uproar that centers around any celebrity death, amplified due to William’s career and how much he meant to so many people. But it also got a lot of attention due to highlighting the impacts of depression – and how much progress we’ve made towards recognizing it as a disease and not a shameful thing or just a ‘bad mood’.

I really don’t have much to add to the discussion at this point, so instead I am sharing a video from 1988 of a song by one of my favorite singers, Bobby McFerrin. McFerrin makes ‘one hit wonders’ lists due to the song, but fans knew him before and after as an incredibly talented jazz vocalist, composer and conductor. The song – Don’t Worry Be Happy – is appropriate to the post, but it also contains Robin Williams, making it even more fun! Enjoy!

So What Acts of Kindness Have YOU Seen Lately?

Take Care Tuesday – When is Technology Too Much, Too Young?

baby-technology

Megan had her impressions of the Polar Loop this week, in which she talked about why she enjoyed the Loop, but also asked about the wearable fitness device trend in general. Almost on cue, that same day LeapFrog, makers of technology products for young kids, announced the LeapBand fitness for kids.

The question I have is – are we pushing technology on kids too early?

It should not be a surprise that kids are more sedentary than in any previous generation, and that in general the obesity and diabetes rates have increased along with the decrease of kids’ playtime. More specific to technology, there have been loads of studies on the impact of screen time, and a couple of years ago some major studies linked excessive screen time to attention problems. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

“According to the group’s Council on Communications and Media, parents are officially recommended to “discourage screen media exposure” for children under 2.

The main issue for pediatricians isn’t eye strain associated with electronic devices, nor tablet computers’ negative effect on kids’ vocabulary, though certainly both are concerns. Says the AAP, “excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”

The group notes that by age 8, the average child gets 8 hours of screen time per day – time that could be better spent staying active.

When I was at my fraternity reunion, I talked with a number of friends with young kids – and most of them have fairly unrestricted access to a number of mostly iDevices. iPads mostly, for watching TV shows, movies, playing games and so on. And even at early ages they already had pretty broad access. For them, ‘getting strict’ means changing the unlock code on the iPad. Sure that is overgeneralizing and cherry-picking from conversations – and makes them seem like bad or irresponsible parents. That isn’t my intent. Stick with me for a minute.

Here are some basics of the LeapBand:

The LeapBand, designed for kids ages 4 to 7, gives kids commands like “wiggle like a worm” or “pop like popcorn” and then rewards the activity by giving points that can be used to unlock special game features on the band. When kids get a certain amount of points, they can redeem a virtual pet like a cat, dog, donkey or unicorn. Additional points are accrued to let children interact with their pets in different ways.

First off, I am surprised … surprised that Leap didn’t have this out in time for Christmas this past year!

But seriously – I have two thoughts:
– First, once again I applaud anything that gets your kids moving.
– Second, why are we relying on an electronic device for kids who are preschool – first grade age?

Here is my basic premise: we need to back off looking for a gadget as our answer for everything, and instead encourage them to step away from the iPad and run around outside using nothing but their imagination; and in the winter ditch the pre-fab kits and just dump a bucket of LEGOS on the floor for all of them to play with.

The thought of an 8 year old spending 8 hours of screen time per day absolutely saddens me; I do believe that they should have SOME screen time daily – I mean, I am a VERY strong advocate of technology and the power of learning through gaming. But I am not a supporter of passive absorption of content in place of active engagement.

Think about books vs. TV – in books you create the scene, the setting and the characters, whereas on TV it is all spelled out. One absolutely requires more imagination and active engagement than the other – that isn’t even a point for debate. Have you seen popular book characters such as Harry Potter drawn by kids? They are widely varied based on the imagination – but once the movies arrived they all look the same.

So while I think it is great that Leap (I think they’re a great company, by the way, with loads of fun creative play products reaching back to when my kids were little) is doing something to help engage and get kids moving – what they’re doing is treating the outcome rather than addressing the root cause.

Kids LOVE to move, to play, to imagine, to create … and what we as adults should be doing is seeking opportunities to encourage them to do just that. There will always be time for screens after active play.

What do YOU think?

Take Care Tuesday – Your Health Matters, Don’t Take it for Granted!

Brothers1

A year ago yesterday I posted the following on Facebook:

Asking for thoughts and prayers for my brother John Anderson, recovering from a very serious heart attack … yesterday morning he had the heart attack while at the gym, and fortunately they have a nurse on staff and the person next to him was a doctor. but it was a massive heart attack. He woke up briefly tonight, which was a very good sign, but he has a long road ahead.

The picture at the top is from this past Christmas – so you can be assured there was a happy ending! But when I wrote that, my brother had suffered a major heart attack, and had yet to really regain consciousness. It was slow going, and even now he has to deal with a new reality in how he goes about his life – but he is here, with his kids, friends and family.

It took a while for him to understand and accept how serious things were, even though he’d already had one heart attack (a minor one in 2006) and even as they implanted a defibrillator in his chest!

At that point I decided it was really time to get a full cardiac workup – not just because of my brother, but because I was the only one left in my immediate family who hadn’t had serious heart issues. My dad had a very serious heart attack at 45, and now with my brother having two at 43 and 49 – it was time for me at 47 to get myself checked.

The wonderful thing is that although there is that great saying ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ – that isn’t how our health care system works. Think about it – between co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance and so on, the up-front costs are enough to keep healthy people from ever getting routine checkups. Then there is the ability to get anything beyond a routine checkup … fortunately I have a good relationship with my primary doctor, and she made sure I was able to get into a cardiologist in the same practice.

I wrote about this before, but basically where my brother got all the bad genes – cholesterol, blood pressure, etc – I got all the good ones. And aside from my thyroid my heart and cardio-vascular system is in great shape.

My message? Take care of your health – make figuring out your risks a priority, even when it is more money than you want to spend. Especially when you are younger – during your 20s and 30s you might still feel indestructible, but these are the years where a history can build. Learn your numbers, where your body is strong and weak, what you need to watch and what you don’t and so on. You don’t want to be feeling lousy when you need to know what is ‘normal’ for you and have no idea.

Take care of your health – eat reasonably well, stay active, keep to a healthy weight (and more and more research says weighing a bit too much is better than weighing to little), and keep a regular set of checkups. And know your family history of risks and make sure your doctor is aware of them. Do everything you can to make sure you are around for as long as possible with the ones you love.

Happy Tuesday!

Take Care Tuesday – #100HappyDays

20140318-065848.jpg

Either yesterday or today had a chance at sub-zero wind chills … neither succeeded! Isn’t THAT a reason to be happy?!?

I had a post about 90% done, then I came across this post at Chocolate Covered Race Medals about the ‘100 Days Challenge’, and I was intrigued. In the comments Liz from At 20Something noted that the challenge had a site to register with some basic rules, so I checked it out!

Here are the basics:

So first you register in the challenge >here<, then choose your favorite platform for submitting pictures. Here you can decide yourself on the privacy of your participation & happy moments:
– Share your picture via facebook, twitter or instagram with a public hashtag #100happydays;
– Come up with your own hashtagto share your pictures with to limit publicity. (Don’t forget to tell us how to find your pictures though 😉 )
– Simply send your pictures to myhappyday (at) 100happydays.comto avoid any publicity.
And you’re ready to go! 🙂

20140318-065859.jpg

The seaweed snacks from Megan’s gift box … with a taste that proves it really IS the thought that counts! 🙂

Why is this worth doing?

People successfully completing the challenge claimed to:
– Start noticing what makes them happy every day;
– Be in a better mood every day;
– Start receiving more compliments from other people;
– Realize how lucky they are to have the life they have;
– Become more optimistic;
– Fall in love during the challenge.

Even when the challenge is over the collected 100 happy moments can always remind you about the beauty of your life. For that, you can receive a little 100 page book with your 100 happy daysat the finish line of the challenge!

20140318-065909.jpg

Riley has taken to snuggling under the blanket on the couch recently … not at all a bad thing!

Here are my thoughts:

I know a number of people who are impacted to various degrees by SAD (seasonal affected disorder), and also a few who are struggling with depression … a ton of people fighting the ‘winter blahs’ after this brutal start to 2014!

This is not a ‘cure’ for anything or a substitute to getting professional help if you need it … it is a daily attempt to focus on something that brings you joy and happiness in your life, and sharing it with the world.

Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so – and so I am going to try it! I have already done two days, and am finding more than a few things to be happy about – I included some of them here.

So what are YOUR thoughts? Are you up for the challenge?

Take Care Tuesday – Tips for Setting Healthy Relationship Boundaries

Boundaries__having_healthy_relationships

Image Source

From the time as kids we start dealing with that one friend who always appears when we open our lunch box to ‘share’ with us, but is never there when we need help or a playmate … we are learning about the need to establish boundaries in relationships. Exactly how we do that can determine our happiness in life.

Running is a great form of exercise to be sure, and also opens up for us the possibility to seek within ourselves a sense of peace while also pushing ourselves to extremes. Yet like anything else it also offers a form of escape – which can be a good thing or a bad thing.

Let me put this bluntly – running is almost always a lousy way of establishing boundaries in relationships, because it generally is used as an escape. The same is true about traveling for work, volunteering to work off-shift hours, working holidays to avoid family gatherings and so on.

Here are some ways to work towards establishing healthy relationship boundaries:

1. Identify the Problem

As noted here, it is critical to figure out when people are acting as a drain upon you. My wife referred to one relationship as ‘wanting to drag me down into the swirling cesspool of depression’. Hint: THAT is an unhealthy relationship.

So how do you know if a relationship is in need of boundaries? Do you have a hard time saying ‘no’ – even if you had other plans (sitting on the couch after a rough week drinking wine and watching bad movies DOES count as plans); do you do things to please others even if it puts you out financially or puts you at risk of meeting other obligations; do you do things out of a feeling of obligation or guilt? Do you never express yourself when someone upsets you … again, or are you constantly the one traveling for visits, driving, or picking up the tab>

If so … you have weak boundaries and need to strengthen them.

When our boundaries are weak, unguarded, or unclear, we let in all sorts of stuff that isn’t actually our stuff, and we give away our own personal energy unconsciously.

2. Decide What You WANT – And Ask For It

We also had an issue with one relationship as a young married couple where we brought a gift for the two kids with every visit to their parents. Lisa had started this before we were together, but the visits were infrequent. Now together we made more visits, and suddenly gifts were expected – an expectation reinforced by the parents.

Of course, one time we were unable to hit a store and came empty handed … the kids were upset – and the parents told them that we could take a trip to the store with the kids. It was during that trip we realized that we were acting out of obligation, and guilt, and it needed to stop. It stopped, just like we told the parents, and we heard about it (from the kids AND parents!) … but there were no more gifts.

When we were first together Lisa had no problem noting some asymetric relationships I was in – basically where I was being ‘used’. And similarly I could show Lisa the same behaviors. It wasn’t always easy to hear – especially when it came to family or close friends, but it was important.

Again it is important to back to WHY we need healthy boundaries – as noted here they are the basis of healthy relationship. With them we can not worry about the give and take, about feeling used or like we are carrying the emotional weight for someone else, or where we fit … instead we can enjoy the give and take.

So if you are feeling like you are always the one traveling to spend weekends together with old friends, suggest that THEY travel; or, that your friends drive that night or pick up the check or hire a babysitter so you can spend time with them rather than as their babysitter or whatever. Make the suggestions, ask the questions, broach the topic.

Guess what – it is entirely possible that your friends just assumed you like to drive, enjoy picking up the check or getting away from home to visit or spending time with the baby so they can go out, and will immediately change up their behavior and you will see the benefits of asking the questions.

Of course, you might also look out the window and see a unicorn farting rainbows .

My point – at the point when you feel compelled to ask the question, the pattern is almost certainly set; and the relationship has formed around the roles you and others have taken. Now we are at a point where there is the need for fundamental change. And as the Dilbert cartoon said once “Change is Good … You Go First”.

3. Determine What You Are Willing to Do

We are now at the point in things where it is like Sean Connery and Kevin Costner in The Untouchables – what are YOU prepared to do?

If you want a HEALTHY relationship … it is safe to assume that you want a RELATIONSHIP. But to go from unhealthy to healthy, one of a few things has to happen: you have to change, they have to change, or you both change. And only ONE of those is under your control!

Of course, you could just HOPE things would improve and that the other person would get the subtle hints you’ve been dropping … but as the saying goes, if you do what you’ve always done – you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

So assuming you know where the issue is, and you are ready to change the situation … JUST DO IT. Just make a complete and total change, everyone will see the situation and recognize the problem and change and you’ll all have a great laugh!

Um, no. First, depending on the situation it is best to make measured changes, but BE FIRM. If everyone assumes that Friday night means movie night at your house, and you are responsible for renting the movie, supplying all food and beverages and then cleaning up after … the change could be to ask some people to bring drinks and others to bring food, and everyone to pick up as they go along and gather up trash before they leave. Sadly this simple thing can quickly become a ‘divide the universe’ moment – some of your ‘friends’ might view this as an affront, and consider your requests a betrayal.

The question is not ‘if’ but ‘when’ you meet up with resistance when you try to assert healthy boundaries … WHAT are you prepared to do?

In the case above, do you cancel your Friday nights? Depends – do YOU enjoy it? If so, and if some people immediately pitch in, then it is time to consider changing the invite list for Friday night … but expect there to be consequences.

4. Develop a ‘Check Engine’ System

If you drive your car frequently enough, you develop a decent sense of when something suddenly changes, when something is very wrong. But you might not notice something very gradually occurring … yet when you drive someone else’s car that you rarely touch, these things will be immediately apparent. But even then – you might not say anything, because you might wonder if it is just that you are used to your own car, or didn’t notice this characteristic and so on.

Several years ago we had the chance to reconnect with an old friend – and the reason for ‘reconnecting’ was that the relationship didn’t end well. This person was the type who was most happy when they had someone miserable around them. So they were a great friend while we were each single and apart, and felt good about us getting together … but as we became happier they became miserable – and it became clear they expected us to not last and then they’d get the benefit of being the shoulder to cry on for both. Worse yet … there were some active attempts at sabotage. At the end the person was in therapy and we talked for a while as they were ‘making amends’.

This is a fairly common example of an unhealthy relationship – the person who gains self-esteem through the misery of others, or by surrounding themselves by those they see as inferior in a key way. I was surprised to learn in hindsight how well my obesity in high school and college played into that for a number of people.

Years later we thought we could reconnect – we were all older, married, kids, etc. So we tried, both as couples, and also with Lisa and her as singles. And almost immediately the warning beacons were going off … and that was it. We were unwilling to assume those former roles.

Back to the car analogy, we need to develop a system of self-analysis for our relationships. We want the blaring beacon of imminent danger, but also the warning lights of things that need attention. We need to have our own system of ‘regular maintenance’ – maybe it is someone we can use as a check point, or a personal checklist. Just something to know we are OK.

5. Realize that Sometimes You Have to Walk Away

One of the hardest things to do when you have a relationship that has been part of your life for years is to walk away. It is even harder when that relationship is with a family member.

And quite often, outsiders will be very quick to tell you what you CANNOT do – they will say, you can’t walk away, that is your brother/mother/aunt/sister/father.

Guess what? You CAN … and sometimes you SHOULD.

As I said before, you cannot change anyone but yourself; you can modify behavior, limit exposure to certain situations, bring the problem to the other person’s attention, control how interactions occur and so on. And yet … if you still find that you are drowning in a swirling cesspool of dispair due to the interaction – walk away.

There is a reason this item is last: it is HARD.

You have to be prepared to say that I AM ENOUGH. I deserve better. I find the situation unacceptable, and unless you can change – I cannot tolerate this anymore.

There are a few possible outcomes: the other person will see this as a wake-up call and really strive to change; they will pretend to change to smooth things over; you will find the situation too difficult and simply accept the unhealthy boundaries; or perhaps through time there will be enough change that renewed interaction is possible – and more healthy.

Or perhaps you will never see or speak to that person again.

It is drastic and extreme, but ultimately you need to protect yourself first. And once you have stepped through all of the possibilities, it is your last line of defense, all that you have left.

The Running and Healthy Living Context

Run TOWARDS a better you, not AWAY from things or out of fear; Use eating to FUEL your future, NOT as a weapon against your body

Over at Miss Zippy yesterday, Amanda talked about how we should be running from a place of peace, not fear. As an aside, for great perspectives on what ‘older’ runners think, that and a recent post by Harold at Runnah.com are excellent.

But are running and eating ‘relationships’? Oh yeah! Think about it with running – we put in an hour or two daily, set aside part of our weekends, travel for ‘visits’ (races), spend bunches of money, alternately curse and praise it, and so on. Definitely a relationship – with all of the potential for unhealthy boundaries!

When I look at myself, I would definitely say that I am at ‘Runner 2.0’ status myself. ‘Runner 1.0’ was all about RUNNING AWAY, and based on fear … fear of being fat again. My running was running away from the obesity – but that isn’t a mentally healthy cycle. Now at ‘Runner 2.0’ status, I am running towards the fittest, healthiest, strongest, ‘finest’ me that I can manage. I am very happy with my relationship with running at this point – it isn’t the most important thing in my life, nor should it be.

I have talked about my ‘unhealthy relationship’ with food. One of the problems with eating? We can’t just ‘walk away’ – not if we plan to keep living, anyway. But while my relationship remains troubled – and will ALWAYS be troubled, it is SO much better than it used to be. Before, I would run to lose weight, and restrict my calories during breakfast and lunch to help. And WHAT I ate wasn’t always the best – I would restrict, then eat more junk than I would otherwise.

Now I have established a healthier relationship with food – I eat healthy, solid meals all day, limit my ‘junk’ intake, limit processed foods, and think carefully before I eat. Before I was a ‘social eater’ – I would eat stuff not because I wanted it or was hungry, but because others were – but now I will pass on things I don’t want … not being rude, just maintaining control. It is what I need to do.

So how do YOU maintain healthy relationship boundaries?

Note: note that everything I am talking about is with respect to establishing boundaries. For more serious relationship issues including abuse, please seek out a professional expert and get others involved and remove yourself from the situation immediately!

Also, I am not a professional, and none of this should be considered expert advice.

Take Care Tuesday – Allow Yourself to Ride the Natural Flow of Life

Go with the flow

Source

Remember that thing you were TOTALLY obsessed with and swore you would love it forever … until you didn’t? I had two reminder of how this can happen recently, one related to running and one not – let me tell one of them and then give a few thoughts on dealing with the ebb and flow of life.

One of my ‘internet friends’ for many years had a heart attack years ago, and as part of coming back got into running more seriously than ever, and spent several years running quite a bit, eventually doing marathons and half marathons and so on.

Then he more or less ‘lost his running mojo’ as he wsa heading into a marathon, and within a few months had another heart attack. (funny, as I write this I am recognozing many similarities to what happened with my brother last year!). Coming back from this heart attack a couple of years ago, running just hasn’t been his thing – he is still keeping active but doesn’t really have any plans to do races.

So what did I have to say when we were emailing about this? Here are a few things I talked about:

1. Realize that ebb and flow is natural

As I said, most of us can look at things that were ‘our life’ for a certain period – maybe it was bodybuilding or cross-stitch or playing ukelele or fixing cars or whatever. And then either slowly or quickly we shifted into something else. Maybe we return to it … and maybe we don’t.

Those with older kids can look at how this happens over time, but for those without kids – look at your parents and maybe ask them about what they were into earlier in their life and how it changed.

Point is – life is not a constant straight-line path.

2. Don’t focus on a single thing

When talking to this friend, he was comparing himself to me and the fact that I have always been single-mindedly a runner. He was really nota huge runner except for a few years, and was always more into a variety of sports.

And that was my advice – so long as you are active – that is good, that is enough … and that is good enough. Surviving two heart attacks is not trivial (in the case of my brother, having him alive at all after last year is no small miracle), and the goal needs to be activity – ANY activity that works.

Another thing – it seems like there is some backlash building about the marathon as the ‘ultimate’ distance – that somehow EVERY runner should pursue the marathon distance, or that you aren’t a runner if you don’t do the marathon. Finally people see that there is a reason there are more than a dozen distance specialties in track, because everyone is different – some are joyous at half-marathon but miserable at full-marathon.

Why torture yourself rather than find the pursuit that is your joy?

3. Is It Physical?

My struggles between 2008 – 2012 were based on my thyroid dying, getting on medication and slowly normalizing. Unfortunately I gained loads of weight during that time, making getting back to running consistently a struggle.

At this point the systems that were keeping me down are now working with me to pump my metabolism into overdrive and fuel me through my days. But before then, I was struggling against my body – I was just lucky to have it diagnosed.

4. Are You Depressed?

I have linked to Ann’s Running Commentary, and she has detailed her struggles with depression – and how it has impacted her running and training and exercise in general. Depression has a huge impact on every aspect of your life.

And honestly when my thyroid was dying, it was around the same time I had gotten laid off, so I was unsure whether or not it was normal or if I was depressed. Turns out it was my thyroid … but unless you know it is physical, if you are feeling this way PLEASE meet with someone.

5. Sometime, You Just Have to Move On

Running is just one of the many forms of exercise available. Exercise is definitely important to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but for people like my wife with joint issues who cannot run, there are other options such as elliptical or biking or walking or gym machines or yoga or karate/kickboxing … you get my point.

The point is that you should seek to exercise and keep up your activity for health, period. Anything above that – great.

My Other Story

I have been a computer gamer since it became ‘a thing’ – you can go back to the Apple ][+ (i.e. 1979) and Castle Wolfenstein as my first ‘gaming obsession’. And this past week I was playing the indie RPG ‘Eschalon Book III’. But for a period, it was a HUGE thing for me.

Last week I got an email from a friend I knew from my heaviest period of doing game reviews, and he had used Archive.org to seek out an old review. His comment was that he found it amazing that I was so prolific and yet wrote such indepth reviews. How prolific? My peak year I produced more than 225 game reviews across PC, Mac, DS and PSP.

It is hard to imagine that now – I probably do ~50 game reviews a year at this point, and most are 2-3 hour iPad games. Back then most of the games were full 10-20 hour ‘AAA’ games.

The question I have been asked before is HOW I did that – and the answer is simple: it became my singular hobby. As gaming ramped, reading stopped, running was less of a priority, I slept less, and never worked on my music playing or compositions. And as I wanted other things back in my life, gaming took a back seat. I still love playing computer games, but it is much less of a priority, and about a half-dozen things take precedent.

Conclusions

At some point in our lives, we all had something we loved that later became part of our past. I had high school teachers who thought I should pursue writing and music, but I was always going to be an engineer/statistician. But guess what – I still make music regularly and obviously love writing.

I will always be a runner – even if I have periods where running is more of a secondary pursuit than it is now. So if you are struggling – look to see if it is something medical, or if maybe you should look in another direction.

So what things have ebbed and flowed in YOUR life?

Take Care Tuesday – National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

How-Much-is-Too-Much-OVEREXERCISE-Final-copy

Image Source

This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness week. And honestly, that is some serious stuff. Important stuff. Life or death stuff. So this is going to be a serious post, but it is a serious issue. Eating disorders hit mostly teenage to early-twenties girls, but more and more this is a gender-free disease that is ravaging our youth and leaving them with a lifetime of health and mental issues. The reality is this: even as we struggle with increased levels of obesity, anorexia and bulimia and other eating disorders remain a huge and growing problem.

“Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 23rd through March 1, 2014 and we are asking our supporters to Be a VOICE, not an echo! VOICE your own strengths, talents and standard of beauty, STOP echoing back the mass media’s unrealistic standards. You can help ANAD spread the message of eating disorders awareness!”

I have written before about how I have an ‘unhealthy relationship’ with food and definitely suffer from ‘disordered thinking’ and ‘body image dysmorphia’. But I am an adult, and so have a different outlook and ability to put things in context and perspective.

The purpose of this week is to draw attention to the struggle of those who have eating disorders, with the goal of helping them out – and helping them to GET help. Personally I also want to help people realize that because food is part of life, people with eating disorders have a lifelong struggle – while they might be ‘recovered’ now, the truth of ‘one day at a time’ was never so real.

I have written about this elsewhere in the past, so what I will do is quote myself a bit, and also a few important points elsewhere. I invite everyone to comment and share to keep the conversation going.

A Little Background
Let’s start with some scary stats from ThinkProgress:

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, an estimated 20 million U.S. women and an additional 10 million U.S. men will struggle with a “clinically significant” eating disorder at some point in their life. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or what’s defined as an “other specified feeding or eating disorder” (OSFED). Although many Americans incorrectly assume that it’s easy to spot an eating disorder, the people who struggle with this condition can actually come in all types of shapes and sizes, and are typically adept at hiding their symptoms.

They also note how eating disorders is the most fatal mental illess, and that a “2003 study found that people with anorexia are 56 times more likely to take their own lives than people who don’t suffer from an eating disorder.”

The Obsessive Pursuit of ‘Healthy’

We have all seen or heard about someone whose dedication to exercising several hours per day and being very controlled in what they are eating sounds like it has gone a bit too far – when you read what they write or listen to them talk it is a bit scary. Well, over at the Independent they look at how a slanted and absolute view of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ can feed into someone who already has an eating or body image disorder:

“There appears to be no concept of moderation – going to the gym is considered ‘healthy’, no matter how obsessive or time-consuming the habit becomes. Eating any type of sugary or fatty food is universally dubbed ‘unhealthy’, no matter how much mental anguish and social exclusion the act of refusing that food might cause.

In school canteens, I now routinely hear teenagers claiming to be ‘allergic’ to wheat, dairy, gluten and sugar, or to be embarking on ‘raw, vegan’ diets they have seen espoused by celebrities in the pages of glossy magazines. “

Because there is such an emphasis on the obesity epidemic, it allows teens to mask obsessive behavior as a healthy pursuit. But make no mistake – there is a line between seeking to push ourselves and hit peak fitness and health … and disordered thinking.

What NOT to Say

Most of us who have experienced tragedy of some type have had people with no idea WHAT to say but a compulsion to say SOMETHING – and not surprisingly in the case of someone with an eating disorder, the things you say to HELP could actually be a trigger that makes things WORSE for the other person.

There are many more, but there are discussions of what NOT to say here, here, here and here, including:

“— DON’T COMMENT ON THE PERSON’S WEIGHT / APPEARANCE. This one should be obvious, but even well intentioned people have a tendency to say things like, “oh, you look so much healthier now!” For a person with an ED, “healthy” can very well mean “fat.” The ED person needs to learn to focus on the much larger world beyond food and weight, and constantly being reminded of zir own appearance is highly detrimental to that. Instead of talking about zir weight, ask the ED person how ze FEELS. “

Pro tip – when you have no idea what to say, try something basic such as “I’m sorry, and have no idea what to say, but I’m here for you”.

The T-Rex Runner

Danielle over at the T-Rex Runner did a very brave thing just over a year ago – she laid our her entire life with eating disorders.

Disclaimer: This is a series of posts about my experiences with anorexia and bulimia. Many of the things I discuss could be extremely triggering if you are dealing with an eating disorder, so please read at your own risk. I am not an doctor or a therapist. I am simply telling you my story.

If you follow her posts, you will know that in recent years she needed stomach surgery due to issues caused from acid erosion from bulimia, has chronic heart issues she’ll never get past that came from her eating disorders, and has terrible back issues that have recently side-lined her from running more than a couple of miles … you guessed it, that stem from her disorder.

She is an incredibly funny and warm and genuine person who has struggled terribly with this disease and at a very young age has chronic and serious health effects that will be with her forever. If we can prevent this from happening to one person it will be a victory.

Pinterest and Instagram Struggle With ‘Thinspo’

Just over a year ago I stumbled upon an article at Buzzfeed that talked about online diet programs that targeted anorexic teens, using popular hashtags and search terms. This is what I wrote at the time:

I didn’t think myself naive when I started my first real engineering job nearly a quarter century ago, yet I was quickly introduced to several new terms by a fellow engineer a couple years older than me. I learned the term ‘MILF’ and the expression ‘mind the gap’ which referred to the space between a woman’s upper thighs indicating she was thin and had proportionally wide hips. Neither or these were particularly respectful terms nor anything I would ever find myself using, but sadly they were two of the kindest expressions that I recall hearing from this engineer (misogynist and sexist don’t begin to cover it). Anyway, that was my context for ‘mind the gap’ …

Over the holiday break I encountered an article talking about difficulties at image sharing sites such as Pinterest dealing with eating disorder relating groups. As someone who lost nearly 100 pounds in the last year the term ‘thinspiration’ sounded great to me … until I saw the images associated with it! The terms ‘Pro Ana’ (for anorexia) were terribly shocking … but nothing in writing prepares you for the ghastly pictures of these young women (because it IS a predominantly female problem) who have starved themselves beyond recognition. Apparently ‘mind the gap’ now involves becoming underweight to the point of maximizing the gap between your thighs regardless of your hips of body type.

It isn’t just Pinterest, they were just the last to adopt new content rules prohibiting Pro Ana groups. Other sites such as Tumblr already have such rules in place, or like Instagram have warnings in place for when you search certain tags.

In the last couple of days the topic has come up again at HelloGiggles and more disturbingly at BuzzFeed. Each points to the rampant increase in the content in spite of the rules from the sites, with HelloGiggles noting:

Instagram, the popular social media photo-sharing app, has recently brought a very serious issue to light. It seems that some people (mostly teenaged females) have been using the photo service to share ideas and images that are pro anorexia. [snip] Once you click “see images”, a sea of images bombards you. Over 306,000 and counting for #Ana alone.

Over at BuzzFeed they look at how weight loss programs and sellers are specifically TARGETING these Pro-Ana keywords on social sites in order to push their goods. Here is some of what they have to say:

Tumblr (and Pinterest) have grappled with how to handle its pro-ana community, and both ban the content, deleting it when it’s brought to their attention. But ads for FatLossFactor.com, a site that sells a weight loss program, continue to be posted by stock accounts against targeted keywords (tags) associated with pro-ana content, like “thinspo” and “starve,” so they appear beside images of extremely thin young women.

Looking at the program (FatLossFactor), BuzzFeed finds that it really doesn’t stand out in too many ways from the other myriad weight loss schemes – they push their service through a variety of advertising methods, bombard social media, and even (like the infamous MyPadMedia) associate positive reviews with web searches for ‘FatLossFactor scam’. The site uses affiliate marketing methods who are incented to drive traffic regardless of the methods.

The other truly disturbing thing is the association of ‘cutting’ with the Pro-Ana groups. It is (unfortunately) not surprising, as both of these things are more related to control than anything else … but it is tremendously sad to think of beautiful young women doing such damage to themselves. Both of my high school aged boys know girls who either had eating disorders or who have engaged in cutting or other self-destructive behavior. It is horrible for them to have watched these friends in such terrible states, and I can only imagine the impact on the girls and their families.

These groups have been around longer than the internet, and those looking for them will eventually find them. But with social media and visual social media in particular, the ability for these ideas and images to propagate quickly is easier than ever. And … more dangerous. If you have kids, even in elementary school, it isn’t too early to start talking to them about body image and reinforcing that beauty comes from within, not according to a scale or (Photoshopped) magazine image. Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes.

It is very interesting what I have seen, read and learned in the meantime. It has helped me understand my own struggles and patterns, and also those in others. It has helped me realize that eating disorders are not some one-dimensional problem, there is no universal solution, and once you start dealing with one you will be struggling in one way or other for the rest of your life.

Food Is Fuel

I was surprised when I started reading in early 2013 just how much of a problem eating disorders are for runners. Of course, we discuss it openly here and many of you have shared your own thoughts and feelings – and struggles – and have just been amazing. And that brought me back to the one contrast with those dealing with drug and alcohol addiction: people with eating disorders need to cope with their problem while simultaneously having to use the object of their difficulty multiple times a day. The reason is simple – food is for fuel and is essential to life.

Here is a bit of what I said at the time, using my own story as fodder:

While HOW I started running – being a 375 pound guy who decided to start running and immediately kept it up 4-5 days a week – is not exactly standard, WHY I did it – to lose weight – is very common. In fact, it was the reason I picked up running again last year after 5 sporadic years. But as I frequently say, this time I went from being someone who ran for weight control to being an actual runner who was always training and pushing to run better, longer and faster. I eat better than ever, run faster and further than ever before, and as a result I am in the best shape of my life. Also, I eat LOADS of food, but I have completely rebalanced what I eat and when.

When your goal is simply weight loss and maintenance, exercise is often a ‘diet augmentation’ – in other words, you are not training, not really seeking to hit any exercise goals unrelated to weight loss, and very often heavy workouts are a part or excuse to a reward system based on … yep, food. And generally our ‘rewards’ are not proper recovery food, but instead ‘junk food’ we feel we have ‘earned’. I know that for many years my running allowed me to eat a pint of ice cream as part of lunch, have a bag of M&Ms in my desk, and so on.

What I never really thought about was the content of my diet – because I never stopped living in ‘weight loss mode’, so food was always both the enemy and the ultimate reward for me. In other words, I never saw food as simply ‘fuel for living’.

I am certainly not alone in that regard, as evidenced by the spiraling obesity statistics in our country. Rather than looking at food as fuel to be eaten in certain amounts at specific times for maximum effect, how do we use food?
– For pleasure
– For comfort
– As a painkiller when we’re sad, depressed, or hurt
– As a social tool
– As a sexual tool/toy
– A reward
– Just something to do when we’re bored
– As Gifts

Food is equated to health, it can become an obsession, and an addiction that can ruin lives. Our economy has many billion-dollar food-related industries that are constantly trying to sell us something quick, easy and highly profitable for the company that is really not great for our bodies. Through the years, it has become harder to know what is REAL and what is a ‘lab recreation’. We hear about how so many ‘multi-grain’ foods are actually highly processed grains reconstituted with added components and nutrients to meet labeling standards. We know that very often the cheapest foods are the least nutritious, as they are filled with chemicals that deliver taste and shelf-life without actually delivering the full nutrition of ‘real’ foods such as natural yogurts or fruit.

My story of learning the importance of ‘food as fuel’ has been told before, but looking back when it was fresh it is more interesting – and more scary! I had no idea what I was doing – and it could have had disastrous results:

It was mid-August 2012, and I was already under 200 lbs, having dropped more than 75 pounds in about four months. I was running 8-10 miles a day 5-6 days per week, most weeks easily exceeding 50 miles per week – and I really didn’t know that was a lot at the time. I had signed up for a half-marathon, but I really had no clue how to prepare my nutrition or anything about ‘tapering’. In fact, all I did the day before was to ‘take it easy’ with a 6 mile run the day before. But I had run 12 miles in a single go before and wasn’t overly worried about the distance – and I knew I would need something during the run, so I had bought a few Gu packets. I had a small breakfast a while before the run, but at that point all I was having was yogurt and fruit.

Boy was I ever in for a surprise! On race day, I forgot my GPS watch so had to go on feel, which I was still developing. As a result I went out fast – WAY too fast. That pace was tough, but I kept it for the first half, and when I came to the turn-around point I had a Gu with water. Yes, water, because I didn’t want all of those extra calories, which was the same reason I only used one Gu packet. Soon enough I felt myself starting to slow down. I didn’t fight it too hard, as I knew I’d gone out too fast.

But later in the race I was getting exhausted, and by mile 11 I was seriously concerned that I couldn’t finish the race. I was afraid that if I stopped to walk I wouldn’t be able to start again, so I kept running. My joke is that I ran a 8 minute mile for the first half and an 11 minute mile for the last half to end up with my 9:24 overall pace. But how I felt crossing the finish line was no joke – I didn’t feel good. I had run out of fuel long before the end of the race, and my body felt like it was tearing itself apart to give me energy to keep going.

It took running a full marathon and another half marathon in the following months for me to understand just HOW BAD I felt, and it was not good. I didn’t want to be touched, had a hard time eating anything, felt muscles tightening, so I didn’t stop wandering around. Of course, I did my best to just shake it all off and get into the car to head home after a short time, my family still concerned at how I was feeling but assuming since it was my fastest pace yet that I was just spent.

Bottom line: I went to run a half-marathon in the midst of a restrictive diet that wasn’t balanced for my running needs, and neglected to remember to fuel up as part of my training plan. I learned a lot that weekend, and put it all into practice in later races and ever since. Now when I eat, I approach it from a totally different perspective: fueling heavily in the morning, sustaining mid-day and using more vegetables in my dinner fare.

I keep coming back to Setting Goals as a cornerstone: as I have said, many people who exercise at a gym or pick up running or go on a diet have a goal of ‘weight loss’, but that is a bit vague, and it results in looking at food as the enemy to be minimized and avoided, rather than as an essential part of the REAL goal which is ‘healthier living’.

The Take-Away

In that half-marathon I just described I learned about ‘food as fuel’, something I knew instinctively but clearly didnt’ understand. But I learned something else – I learned I had an unhealthy relationship with food, that I suffered disordered thinking … and that I would struggle with it forever.

I have also learned that I have a terrible body image, and even this morning I saw myself in the background of a picture my son posted on Tumblr … and was surprised at how thin I looked (naturally I could find ‘fat zones’, but was overall surprised).

At the same time – I am lucky. My issues are self-contained. I don’t feel the pressure to look like someone else, don’t get external pressure from my wife or kids or friends or family to be something I am not. At this point in my life I am fully surrounded by the positivity of unquestioning love and acceptance.

But for millions of young women and men – and very likely at least a few who will read this – it is a different story. For millions, each meal is a struggle every trip in front of the mirror is an ordeal, and every social situation is additionally stressful due to the fear of judgment and feelings of inadequacy.

So this week, reach out to those around you – let them know that they are OK just the way they are, that you love them, and that you are there for them no matter what. As is true for so many things, people with eating disorders need to decide for themselves when they need help … all we can do is let them know that we are there for them without judgment, only with love.

Let’s take this week and focus our efforts, and try to make eating disorders a thing of the past.